Written by: Eric Roth
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng
No matter how much we exercise or follow a strict skincare routine, aging has always been a natural and unstoppable part of our lives. We all must come to grips with this in our lives because the signs of it signify our morality and the truly limited time we have on this Earth. Taking this immovable concept, but putting a nice twist on it, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button posits how the aging process might look if it were to happen in reverse.
Born with a condition of reverse aging, Benjamin (Brad Pitt) gets abandoned at a retirement home where he gets raised by the loving Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). Appearing as an old man but very young, Benjamin lives a whole life meeting various people impacting him in various ways but one person remains throughout, which is the ballerina, Daisy Fuller (Cate Blanchett).
With its odd yet intriguing premise, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button proves to be a meaningful and lived experience as we get to witness the entire life of a man. It just happens to be in reverse. Through experiencing the life of Benjamin, we also receive a meditation of life and death as seen on both ends of the spectrum. Young Benjamin grew up in a retirement home, which showed him early on about how life can escape people. With him having the appearance and biological function of an elderly man while being incredibly young, it took him a while to notice his difference and how he would gradually grow into a much younger person. From an early age, he experiences death on a fairly regular basis, as he lives in a retirement home with people nearing the twilight of their lives. This environment formulates his idea of the fealty of life and how it feels to lose people at such a young age. Conceptually, it becomes part of the film’s larger themes, as everyone ages up while he descends.
Benjamin formulates many strong relationships in his time on this Earth, but his most meaningful comes with Daisy. With them meeting when she was a child and he had the physical appearance of an older man, their connection lasts a lifetime. The moment where they intersect begins the reality of the major difference their futures will have. This relationship carries the largest emotional weight throughout the narrative because of the way it shifts in the respective ways they age. They blossom in moments with each other but they cannot stop the inevitability of what lies ahead.
As heartwarming and well-meaning as a protagonist can make you feel, Benjamin carries a level of naivete in everything he does. Through inspecting his appearance, it appears he should have plenty of wisdom but he does not notice the ferocity of the world around him. This gives him the opportunity to learn so much from a young age seeing as everyone thinks he’s an elderly man. There are barely any words to describe the exceptional job Brad Pitt does with this character. While only portraying him physically in the physically younger stages, Pitt lends his voice for the heavy CGI-scenes when his character has the elderly appearance. He exudes warmth and humanity, which gave life to the digital creation of his older-appearing self. He makes it easy to root for this character as he experiences life in such a strange way and you can see the moment where his childlike wonder escapes him and the reality of his life becomes apparent in his mind.
The emotional potency of this film struck me in a different way the second time around because the awareness of life becomes more apparent for us when we age. I can imagine watching this film at different stages in life will similarly make it more impactful. It allows for anyone to reflect on their own lives and the people they have interacted with in this fleeting existence. With Benjamin’s journey, we see a host of characters come in and out of his life, all having taught him something meaningful. In life, we all have those people, which this film allowed me to reflect on and I hope it does the same for others.
With the excellence this film has to offer, it still feels odd as a David Fincher project. One of my favorite directors but one who never allows for too much warmth in the stories he puts to film. His work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button showcases his sensational style but with a much softer touch. The sensitivity he carries with the filmmaking shows a different side of his capabilities and provided material with the power to induce tears rather than cause panic and fear.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button proves to be a complete experience in the way we follow one man’s life. The beauty and tragedy embedded in this story left such a large impact on me and will certainly do the same for people as they age through life. A wonderful celebration of life and a story willing to look at the pervasiveness of death and aging.